A touch of structure

Last week I wrote about the troubles I've had with my thyroid over the past few months. I believe it is safe to say that increased anxiety has by far been the most difficult symptom to manage. As a mother, my anxiety levels are a bit higher than they were pre-kiddo, but now that stressed out feeling is pumped up to the max. We are constantly trying to find ways to help mellow out our home, thus helping me to chill as well.

One thing I started during the day is putting an effort into creating a little bit of structure, especially in our afternoon. The winter months can be so difficult without an outside space to explore as the days seem to drag on and on. Addie's nap times have shrunk by about half so that extra period left me feeling trapped, bored and exhausted.

To be brutally honest, during that first month of feeling terrible, I turned to the television to fill our time. That solution quickly became toxic, as it seemed to feed behavioral difficulties and put a negative energy into the house. Finally I decided that the TV needed to go off. All afternoon. No matter what. It was scary to let go of such an addictive crutch, but the results have proven highly successful. Our tantrums have decreased (mine and Addie's), our house feels so much more calm, and (the very best part) we are discovering creative ways to use our time.

So after nap, we spend a little quiet time waking up, usually reading books or just sitting quietly together, and then we have a craft time. Glue projects with pom poms, feathers, googly eyes and construction paper, brush painting, and my absolute favorite--finger painting.

It's Addie's favorite too.

She loves getting her hands covered in the wet, colorful paint and since it's washable, I feel free to let her go and create whatever she likes.

She gets so into it, it's quite a serious business.

Once she's finished with her art project, we clean up, grab a snack and move back into the living room because then it's music time. The Disney station on Pandora has become my new best friend, and hers too. We could sit together for hours just guessing what the next song will be and dancing. Add in a little coloring, putting puzzles together, playing with Lena--all to our favorite kid-friendly tunes, and before I know it, it's time to make dinner.

Of course, flexibility is the key to keeping any stress level down and that is something I'm always working on. A fussy baby or staggered naps can throw off even the best laid plans, so even though things don't always work out as I'd like, at least attempting to carve out space for music and art in our day leaves my girls more well-rounded and me more sane. Most days that means everybody wins.

Friday pray along

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
~Mary Oliver

All week my heart has been filled with memories of my dear friend Adrienne, who left this earth ten years ago on Sunday. Last year, I wrote this post on what would have been her 30th birthday and today I quietly celebrate another anniversary of her birth. 

Thinking about her life and the incredible legacy she left behind allows me to ponder what it means to really live. Because man, she did. She drank up every cup placed before her with courage, intention, laughter, joy and gumption. She taught me so much about what it means to get up and greet every day as one that should not be wasted. Stories from her life have been floating around facebook all week and the message conveyed by each one is that our Adrienne left her mark on this world. She used her short life in the best way possible--she touched people. She planted the seeds of the very best memories that are becoming legendary antiques in the worn corners of our minds and hearts.

Today, with her spirit in mind, this is the simple hope and prayer that I share for all of our lives: that we may seek to live out each day as the greatest blessing and gift. That each day may be viewed as one that must not be wasted. That we all can find a way to use our "one wild and precious life" that brings honor to the deepest parts of who we are and gives glory to The One who created us.

What is your prayer for this day?

Here's how it works: Leave a prayer request in the comments on Friday's posts. It can be anything--something you are thankful for, a friend you are worried about, a desire from your heart... Anything. By leaving a comment you are also committing to pray for others who comment as well. We'll start fresh each week. That's it. You can even be anonymous if you wish.

The tale of a very naughty thyroid

I have spent a lot of time thinking about how much of the past two months I feel comfortable sharing in such a public setting. Much of that time has been spent dealing with medical questions and emotional difficulties. But the thing I keep coming back to is: what if there's another mom out there who is going through or has experienced the same thing and needs to know she isn't alone? That's reason enough for me to jump in feet first and spill my guts. Deep breath... I'll start at the beginning.

Right after Lena was born I was so unbelievably terrified of staying home with two kids by myself all day long. I was worried that I wouldn't be a good mom to two kids and that I would be stretched too thin to give each one of my girls the love and attention they deserve. All in all, pretty normal fears for bringing home baby #2. I had a lot of support and after the first week or so went by I realized that it wasn't that bad. In fact, it was by far easier than I could ever have imagined. Of course there were days that were rough, but as a whole I felt like I settled into mommyhood of two pretty well.

But all of a sudden, toward the end of November, I started to get headaches. They started when I woke up in the morning and were accompanied by some other lovely symptoms: muscle aches, throbbing pain in my head, exhaustion, irritability... all. day. long. After two weeks I went in for my annual exam with my midwife and mentioned them to her. She gave me a thorough exam and said she wanted to draw some blood to check on a few things, but that I should work really hard on hydration. If that was the issue then "hydrating like crazy" should make me feel better by Christmas.

I drank water as much as I could throughout each day and didn't notice much of a difference. Then the next week I hit a sort of bottom. I didn't know if it was Curt's work schedule or the culmination of having a constant headache for three weeks straight, but that week scared me to death. We all have our bad days when we feel like we just can't cut it or that we aren't good parents. But every day that week all I could think was that I was a terrible mother and a horrible wife. I was losing my hair at an alarming rate. (I lost hair after Addie was born, but this was different--handfuls were coming out all the time. My bathroom floor was literally covered in my hair.) I kept thinking, "Is THIS really what it's like to have two kids? How in the hell are other women doing this? I don't think I can. I had no coping skills to get through the difficult moments with my girls and broke down and cried over and over again. I wondered if I had developed seasonal affective disorder, but something still just didn't add up. I felt crazy. By Friday I was in such a dark place that I began to have involuntarily thoughts of how to find a way out, and not my usual jokes like, "I hear Switzerland is really nice this time of year."

Thankfully, the loss I endured of my girlfriend in October combined with the training I had in my previous life as a crisis counselor sent off a huge red alert in my brain that I needed help. When Curt came home that night I told him that as of right then, all of our commitments were wiped off the calendar. I told him what was going on in my head and my heart and he agreed that we would spend that weekend doing nothing but make sure I could get as much rest as possible. We didn't leave the house at all, even for church. (I'm pretty sure God understood.)

Monday came with a deep breath and a feeling of renewal to try again. I let go of eveything except the essentials. Things were better, but I still had headaches and a lot of anxiety, mainly because I was so fearful that I truly was not cut out to be a stay-at-home-mother-of-two. Then the best phone call in the world came through. I was told by a nurse in my midwife's office that my blood work came back, my thyroid levels were off and I should see an Endocrinologist as soon as possible.

At the time I had no idea what that meant and that the next month would be even more stressful than the last, just in a different way. I went to see our General Practitioner to get a full work up and she referred me to an Endocrinologist within their medical group. I wanted to get as many tests done before the new year as possible, as we had already met our deductible from Lena's birth. I had more blood drawn.

When I saw the specialist she felt my neck and said I had a nodule that needed to be looked at further through ultrasound. She explained that my levels were high and when she described the symptoms of hyperthyroidism it was the biggest relief I had felt in a long time... irritability, anxiety, hair loss, chest pain, increased appetite, heat intolerance, weight loss (oh yes, I had found my way back to my prepregnancy weight even prior to Addie, but I never recognized that as a symptom of something wrong. I just thought I was awesome. Seriously, what postpartum woman would ever complain about increased weight loss?). But the bottom line was: I was not crazy. I was not a terrible mother. I just had a f-ed up thyroid.

My Dr. told me that she was pretty sure cancer was not the issue here and that we needed to rule out some other things before I had an official diagnosis. To be honest, even though they just happened, the last few weeks are such a blur to me. They were littered with more blood work, an ultrasound, a scary misdiagnosis, a nasty cold that took my voice and stuck around for over two weeks, talk of surgery, news that I've slipped down into hypothyroidism, sudden painful inflammation of this beloved nodule which led to an immediate and wildly uncomfortable biopsy, and then finally the conclusion that all of the worst things we feared were not the issue. I simply have postpartum thyroiditis.

Since I have chosen to continue nursing, there isn't much to be done except ride out the rest of this lovely illness for the next several months and hope that it "works itself out" without medication. In the meantime we are very mindful of how many things to which we commit ourselves. Self care slid into the position of the utmost importance. For instance, I am working to prepare meals over the weekend so that I can just reheat rather than start each meal from scratch every night. On really tough days, I call my husband... a lot. Of course, there are a few lingering problems that we're still working through. My milk supply is low and my anxiety is still much higher than normal, but at least now we know what the underlying problem is and are working to find a way to manage it.

I am learning to accept offers of help slowly but surely. I normally prefer to be in the position to lend a hand rather than take one that is extended so that is a big deal for me. It's especially difficult because I don't have something that's debilitating or leaves me in bed all day. To someone looking in our windows, everything would probably appear pretty normal. For the most part, it is. It's just that for now we have to work hard to make life that way, to make it normal. We have to keep it simple and not overextend ourselves. I have to pay extra attention to my body and my emotional state. When I feel overwhelmed, I can't keep it to myself.

There are a few other strategies we've incorporated into, and taken out of, our routines that have helped keep the stress levels lower and I look forward to sharing them with you in the coming weeks. One that's fairly obvious was my absence from this space. In the midst of everything, it was necessary for me to distance myself from the feeling that I had to write every single day. Now that feeling has shifted back from have to want, which makes all the difference. Although I'm still not up to writing every day, it's so good to be back.   

(Oh, and incidentally, the headaches have stopped. That piece of the puzzle is still a mystery, but as long as they're gone, I'm fine with leaving that question unanswered.)

Wake up, Princess!

While we were soaking up some family time at my parents' house over New Year's, Addie was diving deep into princess mode. She wanted to build a tower so her handsome prince charming (a.k.a. Uncle Rip) could rescue her. I have to admit that it made me cringe just a little, but my heart was warmed when she closed her eyes and asked Aunt Emie to wake her up. Emie said, "Oh Princess, I shall wake you up with a kiss." Then she kissed Addie, who immediately yelled, "No, Emie! Wake me up!" I suggested that she try shaking her awake Shrek style rather than go the ultra romantic route. Emie shook her and shouted, "Wake up, Princess! Wake up!" Addie giggled. Success. And THAT is how my girl plays princess. I love it!

One of my sisters asked our mom if she had anything lying around that could be turned into a princess dress. She and Addie disappeared into a bedroom and minutes later, Little Miss. reappeared wearing this:

Expecting some sort of fancy blanket folding with perhaps a ribbon thrown in, we were all pretty blown away by Memere's sudden resourcefulness. In fact, she purchased this dress about two years ago on super sale and was saving it for just the right moment. Wow--goal achieved.

Pray with me

I am so excited to join you here and reinstate the Friday pray along. Spending several weeks away from it left me feeling disconnected and a little bit empty. Amazing how the power of praying with others can make such a difference in my relationship with God! I hope you feel the same.

This week I have a big prayer of thanks to lift up to our Lord. I had a biopsy done earlier in the week and it came back negative for cancer. Praise God! Slowly but surely I am feeling better each day, and I'm hopeful that the timeline I was given from my Dr. was conservative and I'll be back to my old self sooner than expected.

What prayers are nestled in your heart right now? Let us lift them up with you.

Here's how it works: Leave a prayer request in the comments on Friday's posts. It can be anything--something you are thankful for, a friend you are worried about, a desire from your heart... Anything. By leaving a comment you are also committing to pray for others who comment as well. We'll start fresh each week. That's it. You can even be anonymous if you wish.

Why so serious?

A few months ago, I shared the words I wrote for the memorial service of a dear friend. There was a quote I found and used in that tribute which spoke very deeply to me then and now:

“Let’s get together and catch up:” Let’s not.

Sometimes I don’t call or contact friends because of this concept of “catching up”. If I haven’t spoken with a friend for many months or even years, it just feels like too much work to “catch up”. It feels like we’ll need to communicate for countless hours just to get caught up to where we are now!

I understand that it’s just a phrase, and the intention behind it is good, but it causes me to sometimes not connect with friends if it’s been a while.

I propose that we drop this phrase and concept, and just realize that if we communicate with our friend, we’ll just naturally find out how they are, and what’s been going on with them.

I’m going to release myself from any pressure to “catch up,” and call those friends I’ve been avoiding and suggest that we just start from how we are now and go backwards from there if we want to.

Also, “catching up” implies that we have fallen behind somehow, and I don’t believe that time is that linear. It isn’t just about a progression of events along a certain timeline, but a multi-layered affair, with telepathic awarenesses thrown in.

What we or our friends have been doing in the time we didn’t communicate is less important than our being or essence, and that you can only discover through being present with a friend.

SARK, Fabulous Friendship Festival

Throughout the past week or so I began to feel my inner blogger voice itching its way back to the surface. After a much needed break of silence, I started to hear the whisper of my inner narrator pick up on little bits that happened during the day. Oh, I should write about that tomorrow.
But then I got the best of that little voice, thinking that I had way too much to catch up on before I could just leap right into our day-to-day. Well phooey on that, I say! I'll get to "catching up" when I can. Once I am able to rest in the mayhem of the past month or so, I can process through it all and share in the best way I know how. Until then, I'm going to live the words of the brilliant and profound SARK.
Here goes... Lately Addie has taken to asking for toast in the morning. She likes it with butter and blueberry preserves. Every now and then, she takes a giant bite right out of the center and ends up with a face like this:

And every time, Curt or I ask her to say, "Why so seeeerious?" Cracks. Me. Up. And even though she has no idea why her sick parents find that funny, she has a good laugh too. Cheers to a dark sense of humor!

Fallen, but not off the face of the earth

It sure has been a while, hasn't it? When I last posted about a week and a half ago, I had every intention of coming back every few days to give you some of our holiday tidbits here and there. Christmas morning rehashing, second celebrations with my extended family, New Year's Eve tales, all that business. Life had a different plan.

There haven't been any earth shattering events or sad happenings, but the last several weeks presented challenges that have in some respects stopped me in my tracks. I have a hard time knowing what to write when so much of that revolves around medical questions and I haven't decided the appropriate level for sharing just yet. 

Tests have been done, cancer has been ruled out and now we are just waiting for a real diagnosis so the speculation can end and the problem can be solved. We are still hopeful that the resolution will be noninvasive and swiftly dealt with. However, in the meantime I am still managing symptoms that give me anxiety along with the tail end of a nasty cold that has spread to my littlest babe.

I don't want to spend a lot of time going over how difficult the end of 2010 has been for us. In the midst of fear and chaos we have also enjoyed so many beautiful blessings, including the gift of time with our families. But in the quiet moments I have to myself (like the time I spend in this space), I find it hard to focus on narrating the lovely points when all that's in my brain is a big fat question mark.

So again I am asking for patience and prayers. I miss recording our lives and telling our stories so very much, but until I feel well, my commitment to you dear friends and readers must shift to less frequency. As someone who craves consistency and structure, this is a hard routine to let go of, but I know that it's necessary for now.

I hope to be back soon, bearing fantastic news. Until then, I wish you and yours a happy and healthy new year!